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E-zine with impressions of the parliamentary dimension of the Dutch EU presidency

e-zine_eu-voorzitterschap-2016-enOn Tuesday 27 September the Senate and the House of Representatives released an e-zine with impressions of the parliamentary dimension of the Dutch EU presidency. In the first six months of 2016, it was the Netherlands` turn to assume the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. During this presidency the Dutch parliament organised six conferences for its fellow MPs from the EU member states, partly in cooperation with the European Parliament. An innovative approach was pivotal in the organisation of the parliamentary dimension of the EU presidency.

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 The e-zine shows in words and pictures what the parliamentary dimension was about and how the conferences went. Five of the six conferences were held in the Hall of Knights in The Hague, one in the European Parliament in Brussels. The conferences were on such themes as energy and circulair economy, human trafficking in the digital age, security and defence, economic coordination and the refugee crisis. The e-zine also pays attention to the meeting with the entire European Commission and the leaders of the groups in the European Parliament.

 The innovative approach involved, among other things, the development of a dedicated app for the participants in the conferences, the strengthening of the interactive nature of the debates and the engagement of non-parliamentarian partners, such as local authorities and expterts, in the conferences. The 24-page e-zine containes weblinks to the conferences and other relevant information. It will be sent to all the participants.

Dutch EU Presidency has come to an end

The time has come: The Dutch EU Presidency, including the parliamentary dimension of this presidency, has come to an end. The States General can now reflect on six interesting, relevant and interactive interparliamentary conferences, in which parliamentarians were able to exchange ideas on current societal themes that stretch beyond national borders. By doing so, these parliamentarians made a valuable contribution to achieving the objective of the presidency, which was to work together to strengthen parliamentary scrutiny of EU decision-making.

 

The Dutch parliament wishes to thank all participants for their attendance, their efforts and their active contributions to the debate, and would like to conclude with an overview of a successful parliamentary dimension.

In this short video, we look back at the last six months.

Transatlantic Legislators’ Dialogue visits Dutch Parliament

On Monday 27 June, the Transatlantic Legislators’ Dialogue (TLD) paid a visit to the Dutch Parliament. During their visit, the members of the TLD were addressed by the First Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ton Elias, and by the President of the Senate, Ankie Broekers-Knol. Both of them took a brief look back at the parliamentary dimension of the Dutch EU Presidency. The programme also contained three working sessions attended by members of the House of Representatives and the Senate. The TLD is an interparliamentary shared-interest group between the European Parliament and the United States Congress. It comes together twice a year, alternatively in the United States and in the European member state that currently holds the rotating Presidency of the EU.

 

The focus of the first working session was counter terrorism, cyber security and radicalisation. Session two concentrated on foreign politics, and especially the Brexit. The third and final session was about trade, and in particular the TTIP. In closing, a common position was signed and there was a look ahead to the next TLD meeting, which will take place in Washington D.C.

 

“Valuable parliamentary meetings in turbulent times” – Blog by Malik Azmani and Tuur Elzinga

The parliamentary dimension of the Dutch EU Presidency in the first half of 2016 has come to an end. Around 250 participants attended the 55th plenary COSAC meeting: parliamentarians of the European Affairs committees of the 28 member states, representatives of the European Parliament and other parties. The meeting held from 12 to 14 June in the Hall of Knights in The Hague provided a worthy end to our parliamentary activities during this presidency. The six successful conferences have demonstrated that national parliaments matter. With the utmost confidence, we hand over the Presidency of the parliamentary dimension to Slovakia for the second half of 2016.

The meetings of the last six months were intense. That is not surprising, because these are turbulent times for Europe. Learning lessons from the financial crisis, grappling with the migrant crisis, the changing security situation, discussions between individual member states and further strengthening the role of the national parliaments. All of these issues and many more came up during the six conferences of the parliamentary dimension of the Dutch EU Presidency.

In addition to the regular meetings of COSAC, and the meetings on the financial stability and the security and defence policy, we organised two important conferences on specific themes. The first of these was about the consequences of human trafficking, while the other one was about energy. These two themes are particularly topical and will require our attention for years to come. These conferences enriched our presidency.

We were able to attract renowned speakers from both the Netherlands and abroad to all of the conferences. Their contributions and expertise greatly enriched the debate and thereby also our parliamentary dimension. Furthermore, we were also very pleased with the contributions of the Dutch prime minister, various Dutch ministers, various European Commissioners and various representatives of the European Parliament. As a result, the conferences became a true dialogue between all relevant players on the European stage.

We therefore believe that the motto of the Dutch parliamentary presidency – strengthening parliamentary influence through improved mutual cooperation – has been effectively realised in the last six months. 

We tried to do that in an innovative manner. With more interaction during conferences, diverse side events – including events with the general public and other partners, such as the cities of The Hague and Rotterdam and the provinces – and with the use of modern means of communication: the special interactive conference app (https://www.parleu2016.nl), photos on Flickr and tweets on Twitter (@Parleu2016NL). Everyone who made a contribution, especially the administrative support, deserves a great deal of praise.

It has been an intense six months, but it was worth it. As the Chairs of the European Affairs committees of the Dutch House of Representatives and the Senate, we wish our colleagues of the Národná rada Slovenskej republiky in Bratislava much success in the next six months.

veľa šťastia !

Malik Azmani, Chair of the European Affairs Committee, House of Representatives

Tuur Elzinga, Chair of the European Affairs Committee, Senate

Second day of the COSAC plenary meeting

After an interesting first day of the COSAC, the meeting of parliamentarians from all over Europe continued today. The second day of the conference had an early and somewhat atypical start for some participants. At 7 a.m. a group of participants headed through The Hague centre on an athletic morning run. Along their route, they passed Noordeinde Palace, the Peace Palace, Lange Voorhout and Binnenhof. Notwithstanding the rain, the exercise made for a fresh start to another exhilarating conference day.

The programme for Day 2 opened with a session featuring two members of the European Court of Auditors. Dutch senator Joris Backer introduced the session: “Why have we placed the European Court of Auditors on the agenda today? Because it affects all of us and all our commissions. We are convinced that auditing is a matter for us to exert influence at European levels and with national parliaments. On what did we spend our money in the EU? This question can be a good wake-up call for us.”

Alex Brenninkmeijer and Ville Itälä, both members of the European Court of Auditors, spoke with the parliamentarians about closer cooperation between the national parliaments and the Court of Auditors. Brenninkmeijer mentioned that “If we want to improve government at national and European level, there are lessons to be learned from past performances.” Brenninkmeijer also noted the need to explore ways to improve cooperation between the ECA and the national parliaments. There is not just one single way of working together; rather, the approach needs to be customised.  Participants had the opportunity to debate with the members of the Court of Auditors and gratefully used the occasion. During the debate Itälä explained how important cooperation is between the European Court of Auditors and the national parliaments: “It’s very important that we get feedback on issues to decide what we do. Cooperation is key, we have to look to the issues such as food waste and migration issues and  we have to give information to each other,  for example to deal with error rates that are too high.” Itälä also spoke about accountability: “To achieve the goal of accountability, for example in agriculture, we need better regulations that can be implemented with fewer errors.” 

The second session of the day focused on the very topical migration issue. Kamran Ullah moderated the discussion about the implementation of the agreements between the EU and Turkey. Gerald Knaus, chairman of the European Stability Initiative, introduced this topic and indicated in which areas the EU-Turkey Agreement is working, and where it is not: “Let’s make the Agreement work.” The lively panel debate that followed addressed the role of all member states in the migration issue. The EU should achieve its values, give and take and “show that this is serious.” That the migration issue is much discussed in the EU became clear from the large number of parliamentarians who then requested speaking time. They spoke about present needs, what will be required from Member States in the future and public opinion regarding migration.

Following the sessions the contributions were adopted. These primarily addressed opportunities for cooperation and mutual exchanges between parliaments. Afterwards, these contributions shall be brought to the attention of the European Parliament, the Commission and the Member States in a letter.  Prior to the COSAC, the Dutch Parliament launched an essay contest. The winner of this contest, Andrea Finesso, addressed the parliamentarians present in the Hall of Knights this afternoon. He enlightened those in the Hall about how his generation views the future of the EU and the role of national parliaments there: “I speak as a young citizen who feels a great distance from the institutions. I do believe great involvement of national parliaments in the EU is important.” Next, the Slovak delegation had the opportunity to showcase the Slovak presidency, which will begin on 1 July 2016. Malik Azmani, chair of the Standing Committee on European Affairs of the House of Representatives delivered the concluding remarks: “I look back on a very fruitful conference. I would like to thank all the participants of the meeting for their active role in creating a lively debate.”  This conference marks the conclusion by the Dutch parliament of the last of six successful conferences. Malik Azmani thanked all participants in the six conferences and all those who contributed.

 

Afternoon program of plenary COSAC on rule of law and parliamentary diplomacy

The first afternoon session was dedicated to protecting the rule of law within the European Union. The session was introduced by Murray Hunt, visiting professor at the University of Oxford. The central question he raised concerned the role of national parliaments in this process. “Why should parliaments be involved in protecting and achieving rule of law? What have parliaments done thus far to obtain such a role? How can they enhance this role in the future?”

He subsequently chaired a panel debate on this topic. Pieter van Dijk, former member of the Venice Commission, and Europarliamentarian Sophie in ’t Veld engaged in a discussion about the rule of law and democracy and the current topical developments in Europe. Van Dijk: “We need not agree on everything, but reaching a consensus on the main rules and principles regarding the rule of law is important.”

In ’t Veld added that in addition to consensus about those rules and principles, agreeing as to how they are applied in practice matters. “In the European Parliament we face very practical challenges – for example relating to trade relations or asylum. Developing a common framework for rule of law would be wise, as this is not purely a national matter. Parliamentarians should apply the means they have and take responsibility for bringing about such a common framework. We need to uphold our values.”  

European Commissioner Frans Timmermans concluded the session. He described the tension experienced between democracy and the rule of law. Timmermans: “Democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law; you cannot say that one is more important than the others. They are all necessary. Unequivocal application of European law is essential for the EU to function.”

The second afternoon session was focused on exchanging best practices and experiences in parliamentary diplomacy. Jan Wouters, a researcher on inter-parliamentary cooperation and parliamentary diplomacy at the University of Leuven, introduced the session.

In his opening address he described the importance of parliamentary diplomacy: “In the 21st century parliamentary diplomacy is immensely important, because national and international policy have become increasingly intertwined. Parliamentary diplomacy may enhance mutual understanding, improve parliamentary scrutiny and strengthen the legitimacy of EU institutions. Parliamentary diplomacy requires cooperation and transparency.”

Next, a panel of three parliamentarians engaged in debate. Why would parliaments devise a role in diplomacy for themselves, and what are the challenges of having a true parliamentary diplomacy? Trends, situations from daily practice and basic conditions were discussed in an interactive session with the audience. It was noted that, unfortunately, parliamentary diplomacy received very little consideration in the discussion.

Following the plenary session, the COSAC chairpersons from each country met to discuss the draft contributions to be addressed on the second day of the plenary COSAC.

Preview of Day 2 of the Plenary COSAC

On the second day of the Plenary COSAC one of the sessions will feature member of the European Court of Auditors Alex Brenninkmeijer. Later that morning the parliamentarians will discuss the migration issue. The Plenary COSAC will conclude with adopting the contributions.

The 55th edition of the COSAC plenary launches

On Monday 13 June 250 parliamentarians and delegation staff from all over Europe gathered in The Hague for the plenary COSAC meeting. The COSAC is intended as an exchange of information and best practices between the different national parliaments. Members of the European Parliament participated in the conference as well. Participants were welcomed by President of the Dutch Senate Ankie Broekers-Knol. In her speech, she mentioned how Europe must cope with the instability we face.

“It is of vital importance that we find a way to protect and safeguard our free, open, democratic society and that we stand firm to uphold the rule of law. Parliamentarians have an important role to play on that score.  The rule of law is the foundation for the basic values of the EU. These values form our European identity. And national and European parliamentarians all share a responsibility to protect that identity.” 

After these opening statements, the agenda was adopted under the aegis of Tuur Elzinga, and the results of the Troika meeting held yesterday evening were shared.

Next Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte addressed the participants. In his speech he reflected on the Dutch presidency of the Council of the European Union. He indicated that national parliaments, if they work together, can be important operators in the EU: “National parliaments can play a key role. A single parliament can play a limited role. Together the national parliaments can achieve great things: you can give the parliaments the loudest voice in the EU.”
The parliamentarians were then given the opportunity to put questions and comments to the prime minister. These included the consequences of the outcome of the advisory referendum on the Association Agreement with Ukraine, the involvement of the national parliaments in the debate about TTIP and the migration issue. 

During the first session the parliamentarians discussed ways of exercising parliamentary scrutiny of EU dossiers. At this session, which was moderated by Dutch House of Representatives member Marit Maij, the discussion topics included use of rapporteurs and procedures for the yellow or green card. The “trilogues” were discussed as well.

To conclude the morning session, Marit Maij interviewed Euro Commissioner and First Vice President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans. They discussed the tools available to national parliaments for influencing European policy. Maij asked Timmermans about his ideas on the different card procedures, and how they might be used in political dialogue.

Following the recent yellow card regarding the possibility of differences in payment of labour migrants, Timmermans argued that the European Commission should start discussing the underlying political problem and should not adopt a purely formal position. He mentioned his own frustrating experience as a minister, when the EC instantly disregarded a yellow card concerning a European Public Prosecutor’s Office. “Of course those cards concern subsidiarity and proportionality, but I believe that, as the Commission, we need to discuss the political problem as well.”

He mentioned that the procedures in Brussels should not be too protracted: more time does not necessarily improve quality: “we take a terribly long time with legislation.”

In his discourse Timmermans also emphasized several times that openness is important: everybody, including the national parliaments, needs to know what’s cooking in Brussels.

During the lunch break two informal side sessions were held. The Dutch rapporteurs for the Single European Sky (SES) organized a meeting on the implementation of the SES. At the initiative of the Estonian parliament an additional informal session was dedicated to the collaborative economy, on which the parliamentarians from Estonian wished to exchange ideas with fellow parliamentarians.